Theater may be a collaborative art form, but in the Putterman Hoffmann household in Niskayuna this week, Melissa and Gary are keeping their distance.
The husband and wife team, two of the busiest members of the Capital Region’s theater community, are up to their necks preparing for a show to open, but on this occasion there are two premieres to deal with. Melissa Putterman Hoffmann is starring in the Schenectady Civic Players production of “Marjorie Prime,” and Gary M. Hoffmann is directing the Schenectady Light Opera Company’s presentation of Stephen Sondheim’s “Merrily We Roll Along.” Both shows open Friday night and close March 27.
“I have not allowed him to look at my script or hear any of the lines,” Putterman Hoffmann said of her husband. “When he comes to see it for the first time and only time, I want the things to be fresh, and he is really involved in something else right now.”
Putterman Hoffmann plays the title character in Jordan Harrison’s science fiction work, which opened at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles in September of 2014 and was a finalist for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Winner of the 2016 Horton Foote Prize for Outstanding New American Play, “Marjorie Prime” is set in the future and deals with the issue of Alzheimer’s and just what role artificial intelligence may play in fighting the disease.
Hollywood turned it into a movie with Jon Hamm, Tim Robbins and Geena Davis in 2017.
Putterman Hoffmann hadn’t seen a stage production or the movie, but when she read the script she knew she wanted to be a part of the Schenectady Civic version, being directed by Tony Pallone.
“I read it to myself in a hotel room while I was at a conference in Buffalo and I really connected with the character,” she said. “I went into the audition with this feeling that I really wanted this part, and that I had this real connection to it, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up.”
Joining Putterman Hoffmann in the cast are Colleen Lovett, David Quinones and Brian Rana. Lovett plays Marjorie’s daughter, Quinones is the son-in-law, and Rana portrays the AI component in the story. Putterman Hoffmann is working with all three for the first time.
“I’ve worked with Tony before but not the three actors,” she said. “I have certainly admired Colleen’s work for a long time, and David’s, and Brian is a new person to us but very enjoyable to work with. At 65, it’s always nice to land with a great group of new friends.”
Over at SLOC, Hoffmann is happy to present his take on “Merrily We Roll Along,” a musical that focuses on the 20-year friendship of three men, including aging composer Franklin Shepard, played by Michael Aniolek.
“I’ve seen a couple of other productions and I’ve always loved the music and was enamored with some of the songs that were dropped for the 1981 revival,” said Hoffmann. “They also changed some of the subplots so in my mind’s eye I’ve been given a different production to direct.”
“Merrily We Roll Along” was originally the work of writer/director George S. Kaufman and lyricist Moss Hart dating back to 1934. When Sondheim teamed up with Hal Prince to mount the 1981 revival, it flopped. It did, however, after some serious rewrites, develop a second life.
“It lasted only 16 performances, so originally it was one of Sondheim’s least successful musicals,” said Hoffmann. “But they really changed some things, and more recently the newer productions have been much more successful. It’s been much better received.”
The new “Merrily We Roll Along” was an off-Broadway hit in 1994 and in 2000 a London production won the Laurence Olivier Award as Best New Musical. Joining Aniolek on stage for the SLOC’s mounting of the show are Gabriel Hage, Elizabeth Corey, Heather-Liz Copps, John Meglino and Rebecca Flinker. Emily Rose is the music director and Eleah Jayne Peal is the choreographer.
“We had a very good turnout for auditions and got a great mix of people,” said Hoffmann. “I didn’t pre-cast, but I did put out a few informal feelers telling people I would love to see them at the audition. We had some tried and true veterans show up, and it was also nice to see some new faces.”
The last time both husband and wife were involved in two different shows at the same time was in October of 2011 when Putterman-Hoffmann was directing “Leading Ladies” at Schenectady Civic and Hoffman was in the cast of SLOC’s “Ragtime.”
WHERE: Schenectady Civic Playhouse, 12 South Church St., Schenectady
WHEN: Opens Friday and runs through March 27; show times are 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $20
MORE INFO: Visit www.civicplayers.org or call (518) 382-2081
‘Merrily We Roll Along’
WHERE: Schenectady Light Opera Company, 427 Franklin St., Schenectady
WHEN: Opens Friday and runs through March 27; show times are 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $25-$32
MORE INFO: Visit www.sloctheater.org or call (518) 730-7370